Former Michigan defensive end Frank Clark was arrested last November on domestic violence charges. The charges, brought on him by ex-girlfriend Diamond Hurt, allege that Clark struck Hurt in the face, knocking her unconscious, in a Sandusky, Ohio hotel room. Michigan subsequently kicked Clark off the team.
The incident put Clark’s odds of ever playing in the NFL considerably low—lower than ever, in fact, given the scrutiny on the league after its handling of former Ravens running back Ray Rice’s domestic violence investigation and the exposure of just how lax the league and its teams are about the issue.
But Clark did find his way into the NFL. The Seattle Seahawks selected him in Round 2 of the 2015 NFL draft, taking him with their first pick of the year. The Seahawks have repeatedly defended selecting Clark. General manager John Schneider said prior to the 2012 draft that, “We would never take a player that struck a female or had a domestic violence dispute like that.” When asked last week about whether that statement still stands today Schneider, via ESPN’s Terry Blount, said “Yeah, it still is. I can’t get into all the specifics of Frank’s case, but that is still a deal-breaker for us and will continue to be,” adding that he believes Clark never hit Hurt.
Our organization has an in-depth understanding of Frank’s situation and background. We have done a ton of research on this young man. There hasn’t been one player in this draft that we spent more time analyzing and scrutinizing than Frank.
Head coach Pete Carroll, who said in September of last year that the Rice situation has him approaching players with a domestic violence history differently, added:
We’re very sensitive to that. That’s why we had to do such a thorough job so we could clearly come to the right decision. We would not have done this, realizing there is going to be the questions and the scrutiny, if we didn’t know it was the right thing.
If the Seahawks had done “such a thorough job” and come away believing that Clark had done no wrong, that is one thing. But it doesn’t appear the Seahawks did their due diligence with Clark. According to Geoff Baker of The Seattle Times, the only person the Seahawks talked to about the alleged incident was Clark; there were no meetings between the team and Hurt, or with several witnesses.
[mks_pullquote align=”right” width=”300″ size=”24″ bg_color=”#000000″ txt_color=”#ff1414″]”We would never take a player that struck a female or had a domestic violence dispute like that,” Seahawks GM John Schneider said back in 2012. [/mks_pullquote]
These witnesses include Lis Babson and Kristie Colie, who were staying in the hotel room next to Clark and Hurt’s and who “heard loud banging, yelling and screaming coming from Clark’s room.” In an interview with The Seattle Times, Colie added, “[Hurt] looked unconscious. She looked like she was knocked out, and then she started to move slowly.” Hurt spoke with the police and reported that Clark punched her in the face. Hurt’s younger brother, also present for the incident, said the same thing. Everything the witnesses detailed to The Seattle Times is backed up by the police report.
Upon being confronted with this information, the Seahawks released a statement that read, in part that the team had conducted “confidential interviews with people directly involved with the case,” but that they did not “speak directly to any witnesses from that night,” other than Clark. Ultimately they felt their limited research “provided our organization with an in-depth understanding of the situation and background,” and thus they felt comfortable with drafting Clark.
Another report released by The Seattle Times later in the week noted that Clark had told the manager of the Ohio hotel, Stephanie Burkhardt, that “I will hit you like I hit [Hurt],” when Burkhardt entered their hotel room, something that she also told to the Sandusky authorities. Burkhardt, though, was never called as a witness during Clark’s legal proceedings, and other documents revealed by The Times on Friday add even more detail to what was alleged to have gone on on that night in November.
Ultimately, Clark was charged with two first-degree misdemeanors for domestic violence and assault. Those charges were later reduced in a plea deal with prosecutors; Clark ultimately plead guilty to persistent disorderly conduct and was sentenced to two days in jail (with that time already have been served) and a $250 fine.
Whether Schneider’s and Carroll’s past words about steering far clear of players with a domestic violence history were true—and —or just out-and-out lies, their treatment of Clark prior to drafting him looks like a classic example of the team believing what they want to believe in order to simply find a good, new football player. There was no domestic violence in Clark’s past if they didn’t look for it. Or perhaps, they believe they are circumventing their own ultimatums because Clark was never technically found guilty of domestic violence.
[mks_pullquote align=”right” width=”300″ size=”24″ bg_color=”#000000″ txt_color=”#ff1414″]The Seahawks have drafted or signed six players with histories of sexual or domestic violence since Schneider’s 2012 comments.[/mks_pullquote]
But no matter what, the Seahawks’ organization looks like hypocrites at best or liars at worst. There is zero chance of the Seahawks having any sort of complete or “in-depth” view of what Clark was alleged to have done without speaking to anyone else involved. That they didn’t reach out to Hurt or any of the witnesses and just read—or claimed to have read—the police reports during the process is perplexing, given Schneider’s and Carroll’s statements in the past, and given what has been happening around and to the NFL in recent months.
In fact, “perplexing” might not even be the right word. Perhaps “damning” is—Damning to the Seahawks, damning to their head coach and general manager and damning to the NFL. It’s a sign that little has changed in the league regarding its stance on domestic violence beyond lip service paid via television ad campaigns and a few dollars donated to raising awareness. As Deadspin’s Barry Petchesky pointed out last week, the Seahawks have drafted or signed six players with histories of sexual or domestic violence since Schneider’s 2012 comments.
The Seahawks clearly don’t care about what Clark was alleged to have done. They never cared, no matter what their general manager and head coach have said in the past. Drafting Clark only serves as another stark reminder that if you play football well enough, anything else you do can be explained away or swept under the rug by teams that want nothing more than to win games and by a league that would rather avoid public relations problems than actually address its deep-rooted issues head-on.
Photo: USA Today Sports